US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker did not rule out that the United States would impose new sanctions on Russia over last month's Kerch Strait incident.
Speaking in Brussels, Washington's point man for Ukraine conceded that "it's not looking good to get the detained Ukrainian sailors released soon," according to Teri Schultz, a reporter covering the European Union and NATO.
Volker went on to describe Moscow's response to actions of Ukrainian boats in the Kerch Strait as "an incident that clearly has raised serious concerns across Europe."
He also announced US plans to build up military presence in the Black Sea and boost cooperation with Turkey in this regard. "As far as the Black Sea goes, Turkey plays a critically important role … It is critically important as an ally in that region. We would be respectful of Turkey’s obligations under the Montreux Convention as Turkey is itself. We also want to work with Turkey on security in the Black Sea and on freedom of navigation", Volker noted.
“That said, I think that there are things that we should now be looking at that maybe we weren’t looking at before — to increase presence in the Black Sea, whether on a bilateral basis or under EU auspices.”
The United States has earlier imposed sanctions against three Russian individuals and nine entities operating in Ukraine, which were allegedly "supporting Russia's attempts" to incorporate Crimea through private investments and projects. Russia has pledged to take reciprocal steps, both political and economic.
Three Ukrainian Navy ships — gunboats Berdyansk and Nikopol, and tugboat Yanu Kapu — breached the Russian maritime border on 25 November, attempting to sail through the Kerch Strait, the entrance into the Sea of Azov. The vessels and their crew failed to respond to demands to stop and were subsequently detained by Russia.
Following the incident, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko decreed a three-month martial law in several regions of the country neighboring Russia, as well as the coast of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
Russian President Putin branded the incident as a "provocation" designed as a pretext to introduce martial law in Ukraine. Putin suggested that it could be connected with Poroshenko's low approval ratings ahead of the 2019 presidential vote.